The irony of Lord & Miller being fired from the Han Solo movie for "creative differences" is that the writing/directing duo actively seeks out creative differences to improve their movies.
The news that has taken the internet by storm this week is the firing of writing/directing team of Phil Lord & Christopher Miller from the Lucasfilm Han Solo movie after five months of principal photography and only three weeks left on the shooting schedule, and their subsequent replacement at the helm by Ron Howard.
In the official announcement, Lord & Miller shared their thoughts on the parting of ways: "Unfortunately, our vision and process weren't aligned with our partners on this project. We normally aren't fans of the phrase 'creative differences' but for once this cliché is true."
We found the phrase "creative differences" not to be a cliché in this case, but instead to be quite ironic based on how Lord & Miller have found success with Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, The Lego Movie, and 21 Jump Street & 22 Jump Street only after a series of failures and setbacks. As this creative team reveals in their BAFTA Screenwriting Lecture, each of these films achieved success after much experimentation and many wrong turns, inevitably leading Lord & Miller to listen to the creative differences of their collaborators and trusted advisors to make the best movies possible.
Watch their complete Screenwriting Lecture below or skip ahead to read our key takeaways.
1. Failure is inevitable
Lord & Miller highlighted a series of failures they experienced as they started their careers. Their first gig out of animation school was working for Walt Disney Television Animation. Over the course of a year trying to come up with ideas for Saturday morning cartoons, the only thing they had to show for their work was a 90-second live action piece turning the Brontë Sisters into action figures to teach kids about their achievements as authors. The spot was intended to satisfy the broadcast rules for educational content, but it never aired. Lord noted, "So, they hated that. No commercial value whatsoever. Or educational value."
The writing duo joined a series of failing sitcoms before finally creating the animated series Clone High for MTV about clones of historical figures all going to high school together. The depiction of the character of Gandhi on their show led hundreds of people in India to declare a hunger strike, ultimately leading to MTV canceling the show.
Lord & Miller were fired after writing their adaptation of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs only to be re-hired as the film's directors; then they rewrote the entire script from scratch based on feedback they heard from their creative partners on that project. The Lego Movie was also originally a completely different story that didn't work, sending Lord & Miller back to the beginning and seeking advice from trusted sources to start over. These filmmakers know they are going to fail as they create new work, and they do their best to move beyond that failure as quickly as possible to make the best movie for audiences.
Lord & Miller have learned that good ideas can come from anyone working on the project.
2. Collaboration is key
As a writing/directing team, Lord & Miller have not only figured out the best way for the two of them to create together, but they have expanded their collaborative techniques to include other creatives as well. For 21 Jump Street, much to the chagrin of the film's producer, Lord & Miller invited all of their writing and directing friends to the table read of the script. While they thought Michael Bacall's script was strong, they believed it could be even better before heading into production.
Lord & Miller have also learned that good ideas can come from anyone working on the project. During post-production on Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, the film's editor Robert Fisher, Jr. commented on an image pulled straight from the book with an enormous Jell-O mold, "I want to go inside of that." That one comment led to a huge undertaking to create a memorable sequence of the main characters exploring the inside of the Jell-O mold, much to the audience's delight.
3. Procrastination leads to creativity
All writers procrastinate, but Lord & Miller recognize the importance of procrastination to get into the creative flow. Miller references John Cleese's approach to creativity with an open mode and a closed mode. Procrastination leads to the open mode of creativity where new ideas bubble up and nothing is a bad idea. Lord & Miller's procrastination gets their minds to a place where they can kick around new ideas. When it's time to decide which ideas work and which don't, they enter the closed mode of creativity to edit down the material to find the story.
4. Be your own worst critic (aka "Hate yourself")
Lord cuts straight to the point: "You gotta hate your own work, you have to be your own worst critic because no one else is going to care as much as you will." And neither Lord nor Miller are ever satisfied with their work. When it is time to edit the writing, you have to be brutally honest with yourself about whether what you have written is working for the story.
"You gotta hate your own work, you have to be your own worst critic because no one else is going to care as much as you will."
5. The audience tells the story
The overarching tenet of screenwriting for Lord & Miller is the notion that the audience tells the story. Lord explains, "A screenwriter is only creating the conditions for the audience to project a story onto the screen."
Because Lord & Miller come from animation, they use the example of the iconic Pixar short of the big desk lamp and small desk lamp playing with the ball, and point out how the audience projects onto the screen the parent-child relationship between these characters who in the real world are inanimate objects. A screenwriter needs to set up the elements of a story in a specific way so that the audience can figure out the story as they watch it unfold.
Do you think Lucasfilm made the right decision to fire Lord & Miller? Why or why not?